A lawsuit filed on behalf of four Korean La Cañada High School students alleges a teacher and administrator exhibited racial discrimination following an incident of suspected cheating on an AP exam last year that led to the students’ expulsion from class.
The complaint further accuses administrators and La Cañada Unified School District officials of “creating, maintaining and encouraging a racially charged campus” and directly causing the expelled students’ humiliation, emotional distress and loss of standing in the community.
Filed with the Los Angeles County Superior Court on Sept. 11 by guardians representing the four minor students, the complaint describes an incident that occurred Oct. 30, 2018, during an Advanced Placement European history exam.
A student referred to in the suit as “J.C.” allegedly took the exam, issued by history teacher Bill Lively, during first period and was afterward asked by a group of students who’d be taking the exam later that day to describe the questions it contained.
Having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD — which the suit explained sometimes causes impulsive behavior and impairs consequential thinking — and seeking the approval of his friends, J.C. compiled his recollection of the questions on a Google document.
The Google document was then circulated among at least 11 students, including the three other plaintiffs, who then shared it with others. A school IT staff member discovered the document the same day it was created, but no administrative action was taken.
It wasn’t until former Assistant Principal James Cartnal was promoted to the position of principal on Dec. 7, that the four students were, that same day, expelled from the AP European history class and told they would receive zero scores on the test, thereby forgoing any college credit they might have earned, according to the complaint.
The punishment was meted out while the students were studying for finals and was delivered, the complaint alleges, “without warning, without parental participation, without the advice of counsel, without a true and unbiased investigation and without due process of law.”
Other non-Korean students who opened and viewed J.C.’s Google document, the complaint continues, were either not punished or received only mild punishment from school administrators.
The plaintiffs’ general allegations assert Lively was hostile to Korean students, especially the four who received the punishment.
“He often berated them about their attire and other mundane matters such as their abundant respect, shyness, humility and reliance upon technology,” the complaint reads, as opposed to white students and athletes who were “never the recipients of Lively’s verbal rants, which were laden with racist ideologies.”
Those actions allegedly resulted in Korean students openly referring to the class as “AP White Privilege History.”
La Cañada Unified School District Supt. Wendy Sinnette said in a statement Wednesday the district had not been served or notified about the Sept. 11 lawsuit but believes the students’ claims are unwarranted.
“The district feels extremely strongly that this case is without merit and that there has been no discrimination whatsoever,” Sinnette said. “The involved site and district administration handled the incident with the student in full compliance with all LCUSD policies and procedures for academic honesty and integrity.”
Andrea Tytell, the El Segundo attorney who filed the suit, declined to comment on the case, citing the plaintiffs’ minor status.